I could feel it and smelt it it the air as soon as I stepped out of the the Kuala Namu Airport, in Medan. For me Indonesia has a feel all it’s own. Different from Thailand, Laos, China, or any other country. The first smell that hit me was the Kretek cigarettes, which are smoked by most guys. They’re made with a blend of tobacco, cloves, and other flavours. The word “kretek” is an onomatopoetic term for the crackling sound of burning cloves when smoked. A dude named Haji Jamhari created them in the late 19th century in Java. He tried to reduce the pain by rubbing clove oil on his chest, and then sought to find deeper relief and hand rolled his cigarettes with dried clove buds and rubber tree sap. Supposedly, his asthma and chest pains vanished immediately. Word spread quickly to his neighbors, and soon after you could buy rokok cengkeh (clove cigarettes). They were actually first marketed for medical conditions. They love these things in Indonesia and you will never be far from it.
To leave an airport/bus station/train station in Indonesia without being propositioned and followed by fifty taxi drivers is nearly an impossible task. If you have white skin, they will try their very hardest to convince you that they have the best deal, which is usually a really terrible deal. Every other option is usually not running because of holiday or it’s broken down, according to them. They’re just trying to make a living though, and when they see us it presents opportunity, and I like the Indonesians sense of humour about it. They will try, but when you call them out for being full of it or give them the look like “ya right”, they usually just give you a goofy smile as if to say, “do you blame me for trying”? This also goes for the money changers in the airport. A guy, who walks around looking for people to rip off, has a booth full of young ladies waving cash at you and holding up small bottles of water. I wish I had a video of these three babes waving handfuls of cash at me, priceless. If I ever make a music video I want to have them in it.
So after navigating these fellows I was able to find the buses into the city, which is to the right as you exit. Once there, someone can tell show you which bus to get on. Oh the happiness my wallet feels to be back in Indonesia. When I left Melbourne, I had to take an hour long bus ride to the airport and it cost me $30. The over an hour long bus ride from the Medan airport to the city centre cost me $1. I got a bus going to Sisingamangaraja Street where I knew there was a cheap bed at Sultan Homestay. After all the flying, I really didn’t care where my bones would lie for the night.
The guys at the place are super welcoming and nice, and it’s hard to complain about a $5 room (even when the sheets might not be too fresh). It’s a really random place. I first noticed that all the doors of the rooms had pictures of different bikes on them with the name of the type it was. I’d never heard of some of them.
Then I started seeing all of the photos on the walls. First a guy riding bikes with a bear, then Brad Pitt riding a bike, then a former president riding a bike, they were everywhere.
I tried to find out what was up, and what I gathered, in their choppy english, was that the owner really likes bikes or something similar. The very best was two pictures in one frame, a little girl riding a bike, and a little boy riding a bike. The girls one had the name azza on it, and the boys had Obama. One of the guys swore to me that it was the owners daughter and Obama as a kid riding a bike in Indonesia.
It sure didn’t look anything close to him, but who knows. They really enjoy letting you know that Obama went to school in Indonesia as a kid. The night was topped off with street food. A big egg and vegetable martabak and a plate of Nasi Goring, all for under $2.
It’s good to be back Indonesia!